The production of food sits at the apex of the water-energy-food nexus. It requires both water and energy. Globally, 70% of all fresh water and 30% of all energy are used in agriculture and food processing. A shortage of either has a direct negative effect, reducing the availability of food and increasing its price. World food requirements in 2050 are forecast to be 60% greater than the present. More water and energy are needed.
Food prices have a major effect on food availability for poorer nations and segments of society. Energy costs are a major factor in establishing food prices. Since 2000, there has been an almost perfect correlation between the price of crude oil and the world price index for cereals. There is a need, not just for more energy, but for less expensive energy. Less expensive energy also reduces the cost of water, another benefit for food production.
The so-called renewable forms of energy, solar and wind are less expensive than fossil fuels, do not pollute the atmosphere and, therefore, do not contribute to climate instability. Solar and wind also do not compete with food for the available water. Increasing the use of solar and wind energy lowers food prices and increases food availability. This does not mean that solar energy and wind energy are a solution to the need for increased food production, but can make a contribution.
The ideal conditions for optimum crop yields include an adequate amount of water, evenly distributed over the cultivated land throughout the growing season. For this reason, irrigated land produces significantly higher crop yields than agricultural land depending entirely on rainfall. Water reuse can significantly increase the amount of water available for irrigation without any increase in the amount of water obtained from other sources
Biomass fuels provide 10% of world energy, and can be a low carbon substitute for fossil fuels. However, the production of biomass fuels may compete with the production of food for land, water, and energy.
In summary, the following can be done to increase agricultural production:
- government policies and decisions should consider the effects on the entire water-energy-food nexus
- increase the use of recycled water for irrigation (water reuse)
- increase the use of solar energy and wind energy
- avoid production of biomass fuels that compete with food production for land, water and energy.